Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Take a stand, Mr. President

I am an admirer of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Muslim woman who came to the West and has shrugged off her faith and courageously weathered the terrible consequences. She is just one brave person over the course of human history who has said "No," to those who would kill her for it and insisted on freedom. This act of bravery knows no time period, no geography or ideology. It is noble far beyond the silly titles any country bestows on a family because of their unexceptional DNA.

I want to first reprint a few paragraphs from a September 17, 2012 Newsweek article written by Ms. Ali which struck me as sad and inspirational at the same time. In a year we must suffer through the exaggerated and petty political attacks of our politicians against one another, it is a dose of oxygen in a noxious room. You can find the entire article in Newsweek, of course, but I read it at  http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/09/16/ayaan-hirsi-ali-on-the-islamists-final-stand.html, which I was led to by www.realclearpolitics,com, one of three websites that pops up immediately when I connect to the internet on my computer.  Montana Don told me about it a few years back and it has since been among the most treasured of sites for me. It not only maintains a balance of ideology in the articles it publishes, but its polling averages have become a standard in the industry.

Okay, shutting up. Here's the article excerpt: 

Muslim Rage & The Last Gasp of Islamic Hate
. . .

For a homicidal few in the Muslim world, life itself has less value than religious icons, such as the prophet or the Quran. These few are indifferent to the particular motives or arguments behind any perceived insult to their faith. They do not care about an individual’s political alignment, gender, religion, or occupation. They do not care whether the provocation comes from serious literature or a stupid movie. All that matters is the intolerable nature of the insult.
. . .

I know something about the subject. In 1989, when I was 19, I piously, even gleefully, participated in a rally in Kenya to burn Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses. I had never read it.

Later, having fled an arranged marriage to the Netherlands, I broke from fundamentalism. By the time of Sept. 11, 2001, I still considered myself a Muslim, though a passive one; I believed the principles but not the practice. After learning that it was Muslims who had hijacked airplanes and flown them into buildings in New York and Washington, I called for fellow believers to reflect on how our religion could have inspired these atrocious acts. A few months later, I confessed in a television interview that I had been secularized.

. . .

The change had consequences. Asked about the poor integration of Muslim immigrants into Holland’s civic culture, I recommended the emancipation of girls and women from a religious practice that motivates parents to remove them from school as teenagers and marry them off. Through emancipation, Muslim integration into Dutch society would come faster and endure. But I soon learned that by making such statements, I had unwittingly blasphemed three times: by associating terrorist attacks with a theology that inspired it; by drawing critical attention to the treatment of women in Islam; and—the worst blasphemy of all—by leaving the Muslim faith.

. . . The week before I was sworn into Parliament, I gave an interview to an obscure paper in the Netherlands that caused an uproar. Dutch Muslim organizations had been demanding that the age of marriage be lowered from 18 to 15, touting the Prophet Muhammad as their moral guide. In response, I suggested that some of the actions of the prophet might be considered criminal under Dutch law. This prompted a delegation of ambassadors from Turkey, Malaysia, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia to knock on the door of my party leader shortly after I took my seat in the legislature, demanding my eviction from Parliament for hurting the feelings of Muslims—those not only in Holland, but everywhere in the world, all 1.5 billion of them.

. . ." But that was nothing compared with what happened when I made a short film with Theo van Gogh (titled Submission) that drew attention to the direct link between the Quran and the plight of Muslim women. In revenge for this act of free thinking, Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan man, murdered van Gogh—shooting him eight times and stabbing him with two knives, one of which pinned a note to his body threatening the West, Jews, and me. As he was dying, my friend Theo reportedly asked his assailant, “Can’t we talk about this?” It’s a question that has haunted me ever since, often in bed at night. One side proposing a conversation; the other side thrusting a blade. ... We must be patient. America needs to empower those individuals and groups who are already disenchanted with political Islam by Islam by helping find and develop an alternative. At the heart of that alternative are the ideals of the rule of law and freedom of thought, worship, and expression. For these values there can and should be no apologies, no groveling, no hesitation. It was Voltaire who once said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” As Salman Rushdie discovered, as we are reminded again as the Arab street burns, that sentiment is seldom heard in our time. Once I was ready to burn The Satanic Verses. Now I know that his right to publish it was a more sacred thing than any religion.

Now, my corresponding open letter to President Obama:

Dear Mr. President, I know that I write things about you that you cannot appreciate. I think you have ideas that are very bad for us and worse, in order to get your policies through, have engaged in distortions of good ideas and promoted bad ones, used parliamentary tricks and when necessary, bullied, bent and misinterpreted rules to get your way. It is no excuse that other presidents have done so too. It is no excuse that you are opposed by those seeking to throw you out of office fairly or unfairly. If that is the standard, then you give succor to those who believe we should immediately do away with the farce of civilization and just battle it out. I know there are some people who actually want that, or, think they do anyway, but I bet you agree, it is not a good idea. That's because you are in fact a good man who just disagrees with me and many others on what is best for us, but believes in the American dream of Washington, Lincoln and King, seen through your eyes. I have always argued, chided and even teased those who have maligned you without reason, whether it was about your homeland, your religion or the quality of your intentions. But, you stand at a crossroads.

After the election, which I believe you will win unless something unforeseen and drastic happens, either you will find yourself, √† la Bill Clinton, trying to find compromise with the Republicans in congress or you will fight a fierce war with them on the issues that are important to you. If you do the latter, which is what I expect, then I also expect things will get much worse for us and that the imagery of the cliff in front of us will take on a clearer shape. You will blame those who stand in your way, as if more spending and more taxing and more regulation has ever worked over the long term. We get it. We already know because Paul Krugman is what you might become if you have nothing left to lose.

But, despite my pessimism in this regard, there is one area I hope that you will rethink and try to find common ground with other Americans you might disregard because they do not share your international policies of greeting the mailed fist with an open hand, or even those you hate because they hate you. There are among them, those who read Ms. Ali  with sympathy, not irritation, and also believe that the American ideal is the hope of the world.

To continue to be that hope, in John Winthrop's words, now trivialized by politicians, we need to be a story and city upon a hill. In order to do that, we must continue to face the great challenge of those who would oppress us, as certain that they are right as we are. But, the difference is, they seek to do so by force or intimidation. It does not matter that they are inspired by communism, fascism or religion. It is the lack of tolerance and use of pressure to get their way that is the problem.

You know that America is a country based upon an idea. A faulty one, but one in which we stated right at the outset, that we would strive to make better. And it is an idea that grew out of what we call the enlightenment. The values that stem from it are in many cases really very old, but they became much more advanced and developed by writers and politicians during the 17th and 18th century, often by those then seen as heretics or traitors, but which values had the power to attract and convince others that there was a better way than our being subjects to the most powerful people. That's why I call the values that stemmed from Britain and other places during this time period "enlightenment values," for short (though I certainly did not make up the phrase). By enlightenment values I mean things like free speech and conscience, due process and the rule of law and equal protection under the law. I couple with it the simple notion that Americans agree with at least in the abstract as central to civilization and which runs through the history of the world like a cool breeze in hell - Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

The attacks on our embassies are important, the lives lost precious, but the real battle is for our collective will. We do not need, Mr. President, to shut up. When we tell the film maker who made the movie (if there was even a full movie) to shut up or we intimidate him openly or covertly (have you had his tax returns gone through yet?) we insult the memory of people like Theo van Gogh. The principle of free speech is so important, was developed so slowly, and will be so hard to recover if lost, that it must be not only protected, but cherished. And we must scream it to the world when villains would trample it.

I know you believe that it is wiser to placate the angry Muslim voices that we see on television who claim that they want the freedom to practice their religion without having their prophet mocked. I care not if they have ulterior motives - that is their claim.  But, if you believe that the film maker, whose name I don't even know, was foolish to express himself - and his speech caused lives to be lost, I have to say to you, you have it backwards and are dead wrong. To even hint at that will do nothing but give courage and inspiration to those who seek to make others shut up by threatening them. It is the people who have killed and are rioting upon the claim that they don't like the speech that are wrong and we must say so very loudly, very clearly.

Years ago, a philosopher I admire greatly, Karl Popper, wrote the following words in one of my favorite philosophical works, The Open Society and Its Enemies; The Spell of Plato:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

If you can't understand this, then I feel even stronger that you must lose this election.  Whatever Mitt Romney's faults, he will almost certainly take the more courageous stand here. Were I even in agreement with you domestically, and I admit I am not, I would vote for him rather than you if you cannot see that this demands argument by our president on our behalf.

This means I want you and Mrs. Clinton and others to stop saying or implying that the film maker is at least somewhat at fault or that he is disgusting or that you don't approve. I want you to say that it doesn't matter what he said so long as he did not threaten anyone - that the crime against civilization that has been committed throughout the Muslim by rioters and killers and would be killers so far dwarfs any unwisdom in speech, that it must stand alone as the object of our outrage and justice.

And, I will say more. If you cannot one hundred percent back our system of free speech and conscience, you not only insult those who died in Benghazi, making a mockery of their dedication and courage, but you insult those like Ms. Ali and the American-Muslim immigrants who fled places where they could not worship and live freely to the one place they knew they could.

Stand up and be a president. Be an American president. At no better time can you shove down the throats of those who hate you most in this country the idea that you are unpatriotic or don't get it. Or will you blow this opportunity to do something good by wasting your time telling everyone that Romney and Ryan want to throw Medicare under the bus?


  1. You are an infidel! I declare Fadwa on you! You woman loving, pork eating, freedom loving, insulting excuse for a human being, American swine! May the fleas of a thousand diseased camels infest your armpits! Most sincerely, Achmed the Terrorist

  2. Folks - my most loyal reader, Achmed the Terrorist. And this is him on a good day.

  3. I hope you are wrong but you are probably right.

  4. Hmmmmm so you are a pork eater and also a swine.

  5. I am assuming you mean that I am probably right that Obama is likely to win unless some unforseen event happens. I think it is correct, but also hope it is wrong. And if I'm wrong, of course, we end up with Mitt Romney, who few really want to see as president except as the alternative to everyone else who ran. But, in my analysis, Romney has to win every state he is expected to win, plus Fla., Ohio and Va., which I seriously doubt, and then on top of that win another 20 electoral college votes from the remaining 7 or 8 small swing states. He willlikely win his expected states and get those 20 votes, but it is probably one or more of the big three that will do him in.


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .